Please note: I am adding in a few comments at the bottom of this post as of December 3, 2011 and again on October 17, 2012, and again on February 15, 2015.
- fear of failure if someone in leadership isn't telling you what to do
- fear of taking initiative on new projects because that will be seen as pridefully “putting yourself forward”
- fear of being seen as unsubmissive (especially the wives and young adults)
- fear of being dismissed as proud and bitter if you try to bring up something bothering you
- fear of being publicly shamed, asked to leave the church, or shunned by the members
- fear that you will lose your children to “the world” if you choose not to do it their way, which in SGM circles usually means home schooling and courtship
- fear of other evangelical Christians not in or approved by your group (as evidenced by which quotes are mentioned from the pulpit and which books are sold in the church bookstore)
- fear of trained mental health professionals, Christian or secular
- fear of the culture around us
All that aside, though, think about the logistics of the corporate world for a moment. If you had a man or woman applying to be the CEO in your business or non-profit, and candidate’s previous personnel file revealed the kind of mismanagement that Mr. Mahaney has been charged with, would you hire or promote this person? Not likely! And if they were already “on board” you would probably fire them very quickly and very permanently. But, you might object, Mr. Mahaney founded this organization! It’s his ministry! Oh no, it’s not! The church belongs to our Sovereign God. Leaders must be accountable, first to the Lord and then to the people. The church is the whole body of Christ: the people, not just the pastors. If a pastor is not serving his people with integrity and skill, and is instead causing grave harm, he does not belong on the job no matter how penitent he is. That is especially true of the man at the top, who sets the pace and the protocol for everyone else. If Mr. Mahaney was the president of another church denomination such as the Baptists or Presbyterians, where leaders are accountable to and elected by members, would he be reelected with his reputation? I don’t think so. How does the concept of grace and forgiveness automatically equate with his qualification to lead in the future? It’s not about him. It’s about the effectiveness and health of the church. Even if he totally changed his ways, there would be that element of distrust and disrepute hanging on to him – and to the church he continued as its top leader.
I also need to humble myself and share the SGM blame in my own small ways. For years I quieted my own conscience, my own God-given sense of right and wrong. For years I was so proud (let’s make that arrogant!) that I belonged to THE church that featured what I thought were right doctrine and right living. (Ginny Jacobson, who attends our former church, addresses this tendency in her insightful blog post here: A Fallen Idol - One Man's Sin Exposed My Own.) Where else could I find that unique blend of Reformed / Baptist / Charismatic teaching, amazing worship music, and devout fellow members who took their lifestyle choices like home schooling and courtship seriously? I advertised SGM conferences, books, and CD’s in my e-magazine and on my blogs. I always alerted my friends whenever CJ Mahaney would be in town, so they could come hear him preach. For years, I told friends what a wonderful place our church was to raise children, not fully aware of how many of the young people were struggling and straying because of their experiences there. Beyond our tithe to the local church, we gave extra offerings to SGM until the last year, when I couldn’t do that in good conscience any more. We were deeply involved in all sorts of activities and ministries at church. (I do not regret this, because we have wonderful memories and dear friends from these times.) But it seemed like we were always there, taking somebody to something at the church building almost every day of the week. I was so committed that I thought I would be a member of that church until I died. And lo and behold, I did start dying, inside, little by little. And I let it happen with only a squeak or two here and there, until God mercifully poked me hard and woke me up.
As a followup to this post, I wrote My Recommendations for CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. The new post also includes my responses to concerns brought up by readers of this original post. I also ask you to read Ten Things I Appreciate About Metro Life Church and add your own list in the comments.
Update on October 17, 2012: Three more recent developments:
- Sovereign Grace has moved its headquarters to Louisville, Kentucky, where they have also started a new church plant. Sovereign Grace Church brings history, controversy to new Louisville launch
- SGM is also being sued by three women. "The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members. The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s. The lawsuit accuses church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and “forgive” the person that had molested them." Lawsuit claims evangelical church group concealed sex abuse allegations in Md., Va
- Local churches are starting to dis-affiliate from SGM. I believe that I have heard of four so far, three of them in Florida. Here is one link: Sovereign Grace Church of Daytona Beach Leaves Sovereign Grace Ministries
Update on December 3, 2011: After nearly five months, there does not appear to be any substantive progress at the national level. Here are the top ten developments, with links to articles and blog posts from various sources, including www.sovereigngraceministries.org, www.sgmrefuge.com, www.sgmsurvivors.com, and www.larrytomczak.com.
- The pastors of Covenant Life Church (led by Josh Harris) are seriously considering withdrawing from the SGM organization, which has been headquartered in the church building. (See the "Family Update" letter to CLC members.)
- Mr. Mahaney and much of his extended family (which includes other pastors) left Covenant Life Church and attended a non-SGM church (Capitol Hill Baptist) for a while before moving on to Solid Rock, a more sympathetic SGM congregation in Maryland.
- Mr. Mahaney has retracted his confession (see transcript from November pastors' conference, with added commentary by Kris of SGMSurvivors) and continues to speak publicly in various venues, including a message at the conference.
- Also at this pastors' conference, attendees were instructed to go back to their congregations and root out “divisive” members.
- Brent Detwiler, the insider who released hundreds of pages of incrimination documents, has been publicly shamed and shunned by his former congregation. Members have been told to avoid talking to him, as well as encouraged to defriend him on Facebook.
- Jared Mellinger, a pastor in one of the Pennsylvania churches, warned his church that it was more destructive to read anti-SGM blogs than to go to a porn site. (That’s a real head scratcher!)
- Larry Tomczak, who co-founded PDI (now SGM) has issued his own statement about his departure from the organization in 1997, acknowledging the blackmail and cover up.
- Todd Twining (my friend and former MLC worship pastor) wrote about his own departure from SGM.
- Ambassadors of Reconciliation has been doing in person and phone interviews with people who have been adversely affected by SGM and will eventually present its conclusions and recommendations.
- The SGM board is conducting its own review by setting up three panels of current pastors do investigate the issues.
I can't even begin to update you on all that has happened within SGM in the last few years since I wrote on this, other than to say that there were even more serious allegations of sexual abuse against children. You can read more here Sovereign Grace and Saving Face and Abuse Thrives in a Culture of Shame and Silence.
The key thing for me, which I mentioned as an update in the article, too, is that the local church of which I was a member has since disassociated itself from Sovereign Grace Ministries, as have many other congregations. Though I still attend another church, I am currently active in the homeless outreach ministry at this former SGM church in the Orlando area and maintain many dear friendships there.